Story: Olympic and Commonwealth games

Page 6. Cycling, riding and skiing – 1990s at the Olympics

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Equestrian successes

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Mark Todd, riding his horse Charisma, had won the individual gold medal to begin an era of outstanding New Zealand Olympic three-day eventing performances. At Seoul in 1988 Todd and Charisma again took gold in the individual event. They led after the dressage, turned in a faultless cross-country round and knocked down just one fence in the showjumping. Meanwhile, the New Zealand eventing team won bronze.

The Spinning Rhombus debacle

In the team event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics New Zealand equestrians Blyth Tait, Vicki Latta and Andrew Nicholson looked set for gold (Mark Todd, the fourth team member, had been forced to withdraw after his horse was injured). Nicholson was the last of them to ride. Even if his horse, Spinning Rhombus, knocked down eight fences New Zealand would win. But Spinning Rhombus was no showjumper. One rail after another fell. In the end the horse hit nine fences and New Zealand lost the gold to Australia.

In the fierce summer heat of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the New Zealand squad continued to shine. Blyth Tait staged a final-day comeback to grab the individual event bronze from team-mate Vicki Latta. In the team event the New Zealanders won silver, narrowly losing gold to Australia.

At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics New Zealand dominated the three-day eventing. Tait won the individual gold medal on Ready Teddy, and Sally Clark, riding Squirrel Hill, took silver. In the team event, Andrew Nicholson, Vaughn Jefferis, Tait and Latta claimed bronze.

This golden era for New Zealand equestrianism closed in 2000 when Todd, riding Eyespy II, grabbed a bronze in the individual event. However, Todd added a fourth Olympic medal, another bronze, to his count when he was part of the third-placed eventing team at the 2012 London Olympics.

The cycling revolution

Gary Anderson won New Zealand’s first Olympic cycling medal with a bronze in the 4,000-metre individual pursuit at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Bruce Biddle’s non-medal

In 1972 cyclist Bruce Biddle finished fourth in the Olympic road race at Munich. He was promoted to third when the Spaniard Jaime Huelamo was disqualified after a positive drugs test. However, Biddle hadn’t been drug-tested himself. By the time Huelamo had been disqualified, it was too late, so Biddle was never awarded the bronze medal.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics cyclist Sarah Ulmer, who was not in the best of health, narrowly missed out on bronze in the 3,000-metre individual pursuit. However, she proved herself at Athens in 2004, winning gold in a world-record time of 3 minutes 24.537 seconds. Ulmer’s victory by more than three seconds was remarkable in a sport measured in thousandths of a second.

The Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics were first held in 1924, but New Zealand did not compete until a group of skiers travelled to Oslo in 1952.

New Zealand made its first impact at Albertville, France, in 1992. Downhill skier Annelise Coberger won silver in the slalom – the first Winter Olympics medal won by a southern-hemisphere athlete. Coberger, just 20, had been surging through the world rankings. Nonetheless her medal was a surprise.

In 2018, bronze medals were won at PyeongChang, South Korea, by Zoi Sadowski Synnott (women's big air) and Nico Porteous (men's freeski halfpipe). The two 16-year-olds became New Zealand's youngest Olympic medallists.

How to cite this page:

Joseph Romanos, 'Olympic and Commonwealth games - Cycling, riding and skiing – 1990s at the Olympics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/olympic-and-commonwealth-games/page-6 (accessed 11 December 2019)

Story by Joseph Romanos, published 5 Sep 2013, reviewed & revised 16 Sep 2016